Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

States cutting basin funds

The Murray Darling Basin Authority is being hit by funding cuts from two states.

February 11, 2013 4:01am

Murray-Darling Basin Authority chairman Craig Knowles says despite the obvious size difference, parallels can be drawn between the million-square kilometre basin and the family car: you can only get away without regular servicing for so long.

Mr Knowles has been on the front foot in media interviews this month pre-empting a cut to the authority’s funding from the Victorian Government, anticipating that it will follow the leads of NSW and South Australia.

‘‘I suspect Victoria will be looking at them,’’ Mr Knowles said.

Correct. Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh wasn’t giving much away when he said last week his attitude hasn’t changed.

‘‘As I have said previously, South Australia’s budget and its contribution to the authority is a matter for that state’s government,’’ Mr Walsh said.

‘‘However, if South Australia is not prepared to appropriately fund the authority, should we continue to fund basin assets that benefit South Australia like the salt interception programs and the barrages?’’

Mr Knowles said the state contributions could shrink from $100 or $110million to $30million, meaning the authority would have to decide what stays, and what goes.

‘‘What the Australian community needs to hope for is that it doesn’t become a race to the bottom,’’ Mr Knowles told ABC Radio last week.

He said the MDBA manages assets worth $30billion: they begin with the major dams and go right down to the Murray mouth in South Australia.

‘‘Many of them have been in place for many decades,’’ Mr Knowles said. ‘‘There’s an inherent intrinsic value that we have to protect.’’

In late December it was announced that SA would cut $14.3million from 2014-15 — a 50 per cent drop in its joint funding contribution.

At the time, Mr Knowles said: ‘‘This decision further unravels an historic co-operative and internationally recognised arrangement between the Basin governments that dates back nearly 100 years to the River Murray Water Agreement.’’

In mid-2012, NSW cut $20million from its contribution to the MDBA. Add to that another $3million cut this year and the state’s budget for the authority will drop 73 per cent.

On Sunday Profile last week, Mr Knowles said: ‘‘The South Australian Government took a very strident position, launched a massive campaign over the past few years called Save the Murray, they made it a centrepiece of their political lexicon. And once the (Murray-Darling Basin) plan goes through, they cut the budget for about $3billion worth of community assets.

‘‘They’re the dams, the locks, the weirs that make the river function as it does and we manage those assets on behalf of the governments. That’s got to play its way out. There’ll be further conversations no doubt over coming months but we’re right at the moment. We’re in the process of seeking to advise the governments of the basin, of the implications of different levels of budget cuts given what they’ve done in the past few months.’’

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